Fayetteville, N.C. — Retired Gen. Dan McNeill, who commanded coalition forces in Afghanistan, said Thursday that the U.S. needs to tread carefully when dealing with the growing crisis in Syria.
President Barack Obama and U.S. military leaders are weighing military action against Syria, where they say the government has used chemical weapons as it tries to put down an insurgency.
"A chemical event has occurred," McNeill said matter of factly.
Before any strikes, however, the U.S. needs to do its due diligence to determine precisely who's responsible, he said. Also, the U.S. has commercial interests and allies in the region, so it's important to ensure their stability, he said.
"I’m less certain that (military action) would make things a whole lot worse in Syria, but I’m also certain there’s a high probability it would likely make them a lot worse in the region,” he said.
The likely response from the U.S. could involve launching cruise missiles targeting Syrian government facilities, but McNeill said he doesn't think surgical strikes will be enough.
"It occurs to me that you will not have a decisive situation that leads to certain decisive outcomes without boots on the ground," he said. "I'm not advocating boots on the ground. I'm simply saying think this through to its logical outcome."
After more than a decade of fighting in the Middle East, he said, he knows that Americans are weary of war.
"We have to establish, clearly, the strategic interests of the United States are at risk or something has occurred that's so morally repugnant we're prepared to go alone," he said.
McNeill urged vigorous debate before escalating the U.S. involvement in Syria.
"There is a moral dimension here that has to be addressed, without question, but let there be adequate debate so we all agree what has occurred and this is what we’re going to do about it,” he said. "I think the Syrians themselves have to effect whatever change they desire in their country."